Japanese-Style Rice Bran Pickles (Nukazuke)
This is a traditional type of Japanese fermented pickle- I picked up the recipe while living in Tokyo. The rice bran is not raw, it’s toasted, but it isn’t actually eaten with the vegetables. You bury the vegetables in it until they ferment, then you dig them out and rinse them off. You can find this rice bran, or nuka, at an Asian grocery that carries Japanese foods. This recipe has two parts- you will actually be discarding your first batch of veg, so choose some tough outer cabbage leaves, etc, that you don’t want to eat. It’s a long, demanding recipe (you have to tend to the pickles every day) but it’s worth it. Once you get used to it, turning the mixture once a day becomes habit, and you have a constant supply of fresh, raw, yummy, homemade pickles.
1 bag (1 kg) rice bran (nuka/ã¬ã‹)
6 cup lukewarm water
150 grams salt
some veggies you'd like to pickle - cukes, carrots, daikon radishes, and cabbage stems are all yummy
a few cloves of garlic, a 2 inch pice of kombu, a few dried chili peppers (optional)
PART ONE (developing your nuka)
1. Dissolve the salt in the warm water.
2. Place the rice bran in a good sized pot (make sure it’s a pot you can spare for at least a few weeks, as the veggies will be fermenting in it. you can actually keep the nuka mixture active for… well, forever, if you want, so choose your pot accordingly!). Slowly pour the saltwater into the rice bran a little a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. As it gets more moist, start to mix it with your hands to make sure there is no dry rice bran at the bottom. The mixture should be the consistency of wet sand at the beach- add only enough salt water as is needed to reach this consistency.
3. Bury your scrap veggies (remember, this batch will be discarded) at the bottom of the pot, making sure they are completely covered. You only need to use two or three leaves of cabbage, turnip greens, etc.
4. Pat the mixture down flat, and wipe the sides of the pot clean with a wet cloth. If you have a problem with bugs in your kitchen, cover the pot with cheesecloth and a rubber band to keep them off of your pickles.
5. Turn the mixture with your hands DAILY. Mix it, re-bury the veg, and pat it down again. If you notice that the veg has become limp, throw it away, and bury a new scrap veg (this will also be discarded). You are doing all this to develop the nuka so that it will ferment and flavor your veggies nicely later. After ten days (from the day you buried the very first scrap leaves), you can dig out and discard any leftover scrap leaves from the mixture, and you will be ready to start part 2.
PART TWO (making pickles)
1. Choose a few vegetables that you want to pickle- my favorites are carrots and radishes. You can pickle anything you like. You’ll learn to adjust fermentation time as you get used to making the pickles.
2. Peel the vegetables (if you want to- they do in Japan, but I don’t), and cut into uniform pieces. Carrots, celery, and cukes can be speared, small radishes can be halved. Rub with a little salt, and bury at the bottom of the pot.Make sure they are completely covered, pat down the surface, and wipe the sides of the pot with a wet cloth. Cover with cheesecloth in case of bugs.
3. If you want to experiment with flavors, you can bury other things in the nuka with the vegetables. Some examples are: whole dried chili peppers for heat, kombu for an almost fishy taste, or whole cloves of garlic. (I like to use two korean chili peppers and a 2 inch strip of dried kombu.)
4. Turn the mixture with your hands DAILY. Mix it, re-bury the veg, and pat it down again.I have listed approximate times some veggies need to ferment at the end of the recipe, but you can always just taste them to see if they are done to your tastes. They will be a little limp from loss of moisture, but still crisp. When they are done, dig them out and rinse off the rice bran in cold water. You can eat them right away, or keep them in the fridge for several weeks.
5. You can reuse the nuka for pretty much as long as you want. To keep the nuka active, you need to always have veg fermenting in it, and you need to turn it with your hands once daily. If at any time you think you won’t want to eat pickles for a while, keep it active with scrap veggies that you can discard when they become limp. Eventually your nuka mixture will dwindle (because you keep rinising it off of your veggies) and you will need to either add more rice bran and salt water to it, or start over from step one. I’ve heard that if you go on vacation, you can dig out all your vegetables and put the nuka in the fridge to keep it, but I tried this once and it killed my mixture! Anyhow, the longer you keep and nurture your nuka the better a flavor it will develop.
Some fermentation times (ferment longer for stronger flavor):
halved small radishes: 24 hours in winter, 6 hours in summer
speared carrots: 24 hours in winter, 8 hours in summer
speared cukes: 16 hours in winter, 5 hours in summer
watermelon rind: 3 hours in summer (I’ve never tried watermelon in winter!)
These pickles are great just as a snack, in raw sushi with avocado and sprouts, chopped up in a salad, etc.